William Wister McKean, born 30 November 1800 in Huntington County, Pa., was appointed midshipman 30 November 1814; served in the Navy from the War of 1812 to the Civil War; rose to the rank of flag officer in command of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron; relieved from active duty 4 June 1962; and died at Binghamton, N.Y., 22 April 1865.
(DD-90: dp. 1,060; l. 314'5"; b. 31'8"; dr. 8'6"; s. 35 k.; cpl. 100; a. 4 4", 2 1-pdrs., 12 21" tt.; cl. Wickes)
The first McKean (DD-90) was laid down by Union Iron Works, San Francisco, Calif., 12 February 1918; launched 4 July 1918; sponsored by Miss Helen La Monte Ely; and commissioned at San Francisco 25 February 1919, Lt. Comdr. Raleigh C. Williams in command.
McKean served in the Atlantic from 1919 to 1922; made a cruise to European waters between May and July 1919; operated primarily out of New York and Charleston; and decommissioned at Philadelphia 19 June 1922. Reclassified APD-5 on 2 August, 1940, she recommissioned at Norfolk 11 December 1940, Lt. Comdr. Thomas Burrows in command, and resumed duty with the fleet.
In October she completed preparations for operations in the Treasury Islands and Bougainville. She landed fighting men on Mono Island 27 October, including a construction team which installed a vital search radar in less than a week's time. Following the brilliant American naval victory over Japanese forces in the Battle of Empress August Bay during the darkness of 2 November, McKean steamed with a reinforcement convoy to Bougainville and on the 6th landed marines near Cape Torokina, Empress Augusta Bay. She carried additional troops to Bougainville 11 November, thence returned to Guadalcanal for yet another troop run.
With 185 marines embarked, McKean sailed up the slot late 15 November. As she approached Empress Augusta Bay early 17 November, she was attacked by a torpedo plane which launched a torpedo off the starboard quarter. McKean turned to avoid the deadly weapon; but at 0350 the torpedo struck the starboard side, exploding the after magazine and depth charge spaces and rupturing fuel oil tanks. Flaming oil engulfed McKean aft of the No. 1 stack, and she lost all power and communications. Burning oil on the water killed men who were blown or jumped overboard. Her skipper, Lt. Comdr. Ralph L. Ramsey, ordered her abandoned at 0355; at 0400 she began to sink by the stern. he went over the side 12 minutes later; her forward magazine and oil tank exploded at 0415; and her stacks disappeared at 0418. Sixty-four of her complement and 52 of her embarked troops died from the explosion or flames. The survivors were picked up by rescuing destroyers.